When Is It Wrong To Laugh?
Thursday, 12 March 2009
There was a story in the paper the other day that made me very sad, about a police officer who was forced out of his job by racial discrimination, and is taking the Bedfordshire force to an employment tribunal. One of the charges is that fellow officers laughed at his beard. The terrible thing is, there IS something funny about his beard.
Richard Littlejohn was certainly not slow to rush into print, roaring with laughter about the beard (complete with pirate cartoon) and slamming the man for seeking what Littlejohn calls “com-pen-say-shun”.
But if you read the original story, it’s awful. They called him a “f***ing Paki”. They talked in front of him about how white policemen were “better” than ethnic minorities. They made him walk home from jobs, instead of picking him up. It’s sort of heartbreaking, thinking about this chap being all pleased to get a job in the police force, and trying to do his job as well as possible, and starting to realize he was being bullied, and feeling at first just disappointed and hopeful that it would get better… and then it got worse and worse until he was miserable and lonely and couldn’t do his job any more. Get past the beard, and there is something really lovely about his face: you can just tell he’s a good, nice person. He has such kind eyes. And there’s something so HORRIBLE about the result of him going to a tribunal (obviously not for money, but to take a stand against racism) being that he just gets ripped apart on a bigger scale, by Richard Littlejohn in a national newspaper. It must be so frustrating, and frightening. And yet, and yet, there is no denying that there’s something funny about his beard.
Some people certainly do take life too seriously. Last Saturday, I went to a concert at the Barbican, of the music of Iannis Xenakis. The music turned out to be a wailing discordant noise, bit like torture. This sort of thing. It may be very clever and satirical and interesting if you know a lot about classical music, but I don’t; it just sounded to me like a terrible waste of violins. Anyway, then a man came on and played the trombone. It was totally preposterous. Just made a really silly noise. And he kept putting the trombone down, and it would be quiet for a bit, and then he’d wave it above his head, put it in his mouth and play another very silly noise. The sort of noise you’d hear if Barbara Windsor’s bra was springing off during a particularly strenuous exercise routine. Except he was doing it very, very seriously. I was in a group of about ten people and we started laughing. Couldn’t help it. We were laughing silently, but almost hysterically. You know how it is; the more you try to stop laughing, the more you laugh.
A man in the row behind prodded a few of us angrily. He hissed that he couldn’t enjoy the music because we were laughing. I pointed out that we were laughing silently. He said yes, but our shoulders were shaking in his eyeline. I tried to explain that you can’t really help laughing - if it happens it happens. You can’t shout at people for laughing. But he was furious. At the end, he stormed off.
I felt sorry for that guy too - his evening of cool discordant music punctured by the exasperating sight of twenty shaking shoulders in a row. But THAT, I say, is someone who takes life too seriously. He couldn’t see the funny side of the daft trombone, or even of people being tickled by it. And certainly, it’s important to fight against the People Who Take Life Too Seriously.
But I’m quite sure that PC Javid Iqbal isn’t one of them. It’s cruel of the newspapers to spin the case as being about his beard, when it obviously isn’t. And Richard Littlejohn is a full-on school bully. It’s a properly sad, depressing story and I hope lovely PC Iqbal wins his case. I just have a feeling he’s an incredibly good man, who has obviously been so mistreated, and I feel a strangely strong desire for him to have a wonderful life with a great new job and colleagues who know how to behave; when I see his beautiful kind eyes, I sort of love him. And yet look at me - I put a link to a picture of his beard. And that’s because I think there’s something funny about it.
But both things can be true at once, can’t they?